Plenty of people would love to straighten their smiles, but dislike the idea of wearing metal braces. No, we aren’t knocking traditional braces; they are great. But not everyone is into a silver grin.
For those looking for more discreet treatment, clear braces could be the way to go. They use clear wires, clear or tooth-colored brackets, and are difficult to see unless up close.
Clear braces have plenty of good qualities, but they’re not the only discreet way to straighten your smile. But how can you determine which treatment option is the best fit for you and your unique circumstances?
Not to worry — that’s why we’re here! In this guide we’ll take you on a tour of the best alternatives to clear braces, so that you can make an informed decision about which may be the right choice for you.
Invisalign | #1
Invisalign was the first company to offer clear aligner treatment. Many other providers have since thrown their hats in the ring, but Invisalign has remained a household name. For good reason, too; they’re the biggest clear aligner company on the planet. Let’s take a look at some of the main advantages and disadvantages of this treatment option.
- Discreet: Aesthetics is part of the reason Invisalign has been such a massive hit. Invisalign’s clear aligners are practically invisible.
- Experienced: Invisalign has been around for more than two decades and has treated over 12 million people worldwide. There’s no doubt they’ve encountered a case like yours. They literally invented this technology, so you’ll be in good hands if you choose Invisalign.
- Comfort: Clear aligners have smooth surfaces that won’t dig into your lips and cheeks. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for braces, since the brackets tend to cause some abrasion and discomfort.
- Effective: Invisalign includes supplementary attachments that assist in complicated tooth shifts. Their SmartForce attachments are small, tooth-colored buttons that your doctor will attach to the teeth to create additional pressure. These attachments are part of the reason that Invisalign can treat almost all of the same cases that braces can.
- No food restrictions: Unlike braces, there are no food restrictions with Invisalign. You won’t need to tearfully abstain from corn on the cob — simply remove your aligners when consuming anything besides water, then brush your teeth and clean your aligners before putting them back in place.
- Cost: Invisalign’s cost ranges between $3,000-$8,000. So if you’re seeking alternatives to clear braces because of their cost, then Invisalign may not be the right fit.
ClearCorrect | #2
Though not quite as well known as Invisalign, ClearCorrect has been giving quality in-office clear aligner treatments since 2006. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of this treatment option:
- Discreet: ClearCorrect’s clear aligners have a significantly lower profile than braces. Many people don’t even notice when someone is wearing clear aligners!
- Experience: ClearCorrect has over fifteen years of experience offering clear aligner treatment. They’re the second largest clear aligner provider; they know what they’re talking about.
- Comfort: There’s no getting around the fact that clear aligners are much more comfortable than braces. These smooth plastic clear aligners won’t cause the abrasion and discomfort that braces will.
- Effective: ClearCorrect utilizes supplemental attachments to produce complex tooth shifts throughout your treatment. This means they’re able to treat a broad spectrum of cases.
- No food restrictions: Unlike clear braces, clear aligners don’t have any food restrictions. You won’t need to break your caramel habit — just take out your aligners when consuming anything other than water, then brush your teeth and clean your aligners before wearing them again.
- Cost: It varies doctor by doctor, but ClearCorrect can cost between $4,000-$5,000. So if affordability is top of mind for you, this may not be the right match.
Six Month Smiles | #3
Six Month Smiles offers clear aligners as well as ceramic (clear) braces. For the purposes of this piece, we are just going to focus on their clear aligner treatment. Let’s take a closer look at their main advantages and disadvantages:
- Short treatment lengths: Six Months Smiles doesn’t make their usual treatment timeline a secret — it’s 6 months! However, the full range of their average treatment times is 4-9 months, which is significantly faster than the 18-24 month timeline that braces typically take.
- Discreet: The clear aligners from Six Month Smiles offer a low profile treatment option that is less noticeable than clear braces.
- Comfort: Without brackets and wires in your mouth, your treatment should be significantly more comfortable.
- No food restrictions: You won’t have to part with all your favorite foods with the clear aligners from Six Month Smiles. Just remove your aligners whenever you want to eat or drink something other than water, and brush your teeth and clean your aligners before wearing them again.
- Cost: Six Month Smiles typically costs between $3,500-$5,000. This is pretty standard for in-office options, but it can cause some sticker shock.
- Treatable conditions: The clear aligners from Six Month Smiles aren’t able to treat as complex of conditions as other brands because they don’t use supplemental attachments.
At-Home Clear Aligners
At-home clear aligners have taken the technology that Invisalign created, and adapted it for remote care. These treatments make orthodontia much more accessible, but are they the right match for you? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of at-home clear aligner treatment:
- Discreet: Clear aligners provide a low profile treatment — most people won’t even realize you’re wearing them! Clear braces are a touch more noticeable, particularly up close.
- Affordable: At-home clear aligners are able to deliver safe treatments at a fraction of the cost of in-office options. Why? Less overhead. In-office options have to finance, well…an office! At-home clear aligners eliminate a significant amount of upfront cost to deliver an affordable treatment option. The average cost of at-home aligners is around $1,900 — which is thousands less than clear braces treatment.
- Convenient: At-home clear aligner treatments take place from the comfort of your own home. You won’t need to attend frequent in-person appointments as you would with clear braces treatment. It’s usually much easier to incorporate remote treatment into a busy schedule.
- Flexible: Many at-home clear aligner providers offer a nighttime only form of treatment. Instead of the typical 22+ hours of daily aligner wear, this option requires only 10 hours of wear a day. Most people just pop in their aligners a couple hours before they go to bed and dream their way to a new smile.
- Short treatment lengths: At-home clear aligner treatments usually wrap up in about 6-9 months — a pretty stark difference to the 18-24 month timeline needed for clear braces.
- No food restrictions: Unlike clear braces, at-home clear aligners don’t have any food restrictions. You won’t have to bid a solemn farewell to popcorn — just remove your aligners when consuming anything other than water, then brush your teeth and clean your aligners before putting them back in.
- Treatable conditions: At-home clear aligners are best suited to correct mild to moderate conditions of crowding and spacing. So if your condition is more complex, then you’d be better off with an in-office option.
- Less one on one care: At-home clear aligners have a high level of oversight, but you won’t be chatting in real time with your doctor. If getting that kind of face time is important to you, then an in-office treatment like clear braces may be better suited for you.
- Insurance coverage: Although some insurance companies will contribute to at-home clear aligner treatments, you’re much likelier to receive coverage for an in-office option like clear braces.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some of our top ranked at-home clear aligner providers:
Byte | #1
Clear braces might look different from traditional braces, but they work in the same way. So it makes sense that clear braces take the same amount of time to straighten your teeth. Spoiler alert: it’s not very fast.
Byte’s treatment lengths, however, are the shortest in the industry. But there is more that separates these two options. Here’s how Byte and clear braces compare:
|Treatment cost: Byte’s treatment cost is just $1,895 ($2,295 for nighttime treatment), no matter how many aligners are needed to straighten your teeth.||Treatment cost: Clear braces usually cost more than regular braces due to the materials. The average cost is between $5,000-$8,000.|
|Discreet: Byte’s clear aligners are practically invisible. Most people won’t notice this low profile treatment option.||Discreet: Up close, clear braces are a bit more visible than clear aligners — but not by much.|
|Treatment length: Byte’s treatment lengths wrap up in just 4 months for daytime aligners, and 5 months for nighttime only treatment.||Treatment length: Braces take the approach of slow and steady wins the race, with treatment lasting up to 24 months.|
|Financing options: Every Byte customer is eligible for their standard financing plan: $82 per month and a down payment of $249 (slightly more for nighttime treatment).||Financing options: Financing for clear braces depends on the dentist or orthodontist you work with. It’s likely you’ll need to pass a credit check for these plans.|
|Treatable cases: Byte is a cosmetic treatment, so it is limited to closing small gaps or increasing space between teeth.||Treatable cases: Clear braces can correct the majority of orthodontic issues, or be combined with other appliances to get the job done.|
|Wear requirements: You can remove your Byte aligners to eat, drink, brush, and floss. Also, you can choose their nighttime system; which allows you to wear your aligners for 10 hours each night rather than 22 hours a day.||Wear requirements: Braces aren’t flexible when it comes to wear: they are cemented to your teeth from start to finish.|
Byte and clear braces are both much less visible than traditional braces. But beyond that, which you should choose depends on your unique circumstances.
Byte is a great option for you if you need a quick service that’s affordable; the only real catch is that you’re only eligible for their treatment if your case is pretty minor. If you have a complex condition and aren’t eligible for Byte’s treatment, then clear braces have you covered.
Candid | #2
Are you a little concerned about the possibility of having your treatment administered from a distance? For many people, that’s the biggest worry about at-home aligners. With in-office treatments, your orthodontist can adapt your treatment on the fly, repair broken brackets and wires, and give you all the treatment support you need. At-home aligners don’t have that. Candid is the exception.
Though they began as a fully remote provider, Candid recently pivoted to “CandidPro,” a hybrid at-home/in-office clear aligner option. This treatment strikes a balance between the hands-on care of in-office treatment and the convenience of at-home options. Your treatment is administered by a local dentist in the Candid network, and overseen remotely via their CandidMonitoring program. Though most of your treatment takes place from the comfort of your own home, if any issues arise you can head to your local Candid dentist to make it right.
That said, treatment oversight is just one factor to consider. Here are several other important ways Candid and clear braces compare:
|Treatment cost: Candid doesn’t have a set sticker price. Your price will be determined by your dentist, but it will set you back at least $3,500 (sometimes more). Candid usually costs less than clear braces.||Treatment cost: Clear braces are typically more expensive than regular braces. The average cost ranges between $5,000-$8,000.|
|Discreet: Candid clear aligners are practically invisible — most people won’t know you’re even wearing them.||Discreet: Clear braces are a touch more noticeable than clear aligners, but still pretty low profile.|
|Treatment length: Candid treatment wraps up in an average of 6-9 months.||Treatment length: Most people can expect to wear clear braces for 18 to 24 months.|
|Treatment oversight: The CandidMonitoring program allows most Candid oversight to occur remotely. Simply upload progress photos to the Candid app for the Candid team and/or your dentist to review.||Treatment oversight: With clear braces, you’ll have an in-office appointment with your orthodontist every 4-8 weeks of your treatment.|
|Financing options: The details of your Candid treatment will vary from office to office, and you may need to pass a credit check to qualify.||Financing options: Your clear braces treatment provider will determine your financing options details based on their policies. You might need to pass a credit check.|
|Treatable cases: At-home clear aligners can correct mild to moderate crowding and spacing.||Treatable cases: Clear braces can correct almost all alignment problems.|
|Wear requirements: You can remove your Candid aligners to brush, floss, eat, and drink. Just make sure you wear the aligners for a minimum of 22 hours per day.||Wear requirements: You have to wear your clear braces until they’re removed at the end of treatment.|
Candid is an all-around great option for teeth straightening. If you want the oversight of in-person options with all the flexibility afforded by at-home treatments, then look no further than Candid.
However, like other at-home aligners, Candid is limited in what cases they can accept. If your teeth need a lot of help, then you’d be better off going with clear braces, or another in-office option.
AlignerCo | #3
One of the biggest drawbacks to clear braces are their high prices. And to be fair, there are a lot of overhead costs to cover: the orthodontist, their staff, office rent, and more. At-home aligner companies treat more people at a time, allowing them to spread out their expenses better, which results in lower prices for you. But as the most affordable at-home aligner company on the market, AlignerCo takes affordability to the next level.
That said, there’s more to look at when comparing AlignerCo to clear braces. Here are a few key ways the two options compare:
|Treatment cost: AlignerCo’s treatment cost is just $1,145 ($1,345 for nighttime treatment), and this is a flat rate no matter how many aligners your case needs.||Treatment cost: Clear braces vary in cost. They tend to cost a bit more than regular braces due to the materials used. The average cost ranges between $5,000-$8,000.|
|Discreet: AlignerCo aligners are pretty much invisible. It’s likely that they will go unnoticed by most people.||Discreet: Clear braces are slightly more noticeable when people get close, but they are still quite discreet.|
|Financing options: AlignerCo has two financing options: SmileFlex, requiring a credit check, and SmileFlex Easy, which doesn’t — there’s a down payment instead.||Financing options: Financing is often available for clear braces, although the details are up to your orthodontist.|
|Treatment length: AlignerCo doesn’t have the shortest treatments in the at-home industry, but with an average of 6-11 months for all-day treatment and 8-12 months for nighttime, they certainly wrap up sooner than clear braces.||Treatment length: Clear braces aren’t the quickest path to a straighter smile; treatment can last up to 24 months.|
|Treatable cases: Since AlignerCo is administered remotely, it’s just for mild and moderate cases of crowding and spacing.||Treatable cases: Clear braces can correct the majority of alignment issues.|
|Wear requirements: With AlignerCo, you can choose daytime or nighttime treatment. With all-day aligners, you remove them to eat, drink, brush, and floss. With night aligners, you keep them in for 10 continuous hours a day.||Wear requirements: Clear braces are in place 24/7 from the start of treatment to the end.|
AlignerCo is, simply put, the most affordable option. And we love that their financing plans work for both good and weak credit scores. For anyone treating a relatively minor cosmetic case, we’d suggest AlignerCo over clear braces. The cost difference is a huge impact, and a lot of people love how easy it is to brush, floss, and eat during clear aligner treatment. But that’s not to say AlignerCo is always better than clear braces; if you have a tougher case (or if you prefer working with an orthodontist in person), then clear braces may be the better choice.
Smile Direct Club | #4
Never heard of Byte, Candid, or AlignerCo before now? Those at-home aligner companies are still relatively new, so that’s not surprising. You’ve probably heard of Smile Direct Club, though. They were the very first company to bring clear aligners directly to the customer. That’s why today, Smile Direct Club is practically a household name.
Thanks to their size, Smile Direct Club can offer a couple perks that their competitors can’t, such as nighttime aligners and SmileShops to kick off treatment. But what’s really important here is not how Smile Direct Club compares to other at-home aligners.
Instead, let’s compare them to clear braces:
|Smile Direct Club:||Clear Braces:|
|Treatment cost: Smile Direct Club’s treatment cost is just $2,050; they’re right above the average for at-home clear aligners, but they’re still pretty budget-friendly. And this price won’t increase if you opt for nighttime only treatment.||Treatment cost: It’s tough to give a definitive price for clear braces, but the average cost ranges between $5,000 and $8,000.|
|Discreet: Smile Direct Club’s clear aligners are hardly noticeable.||Discreet: Clear braces are slightly more noticeable than clear aligners — particularly up close.|
|Financing options: Every Smile Direct Club customer is eligible for monthly payments of $89 with a $250 down payment.||Financing options: Your treatment provider will set up the details of your payment plan based on their policies, and it may require a credit check to qualify.|
|Treatment speed: On average, Smile Direct Club’s daytime treatment lasts 6 months, and their nighttime treatment lasts 10 months.||Treatment speed: Most people can expect to wear braces for 18 to 24 months.|
|Treatable cases: Since Smile Direct Club is a teledentistry treatment, it can only handle mild to moderate cases.||Treatable cases: Clear braces address the same concerns as traditional ones.|
|Wear requirements: You can remove your aligners to brush, floss, eat, and drink. You’ll need to wear your daytime aligners for at least 22 hours per day. Nighttime aligners require just 10 hours of constant wear.||Wear requirements: You’ll have to wear your clear braces until they’re removed at the end of treatment.|
Smile Direct Club isn’t our favorite at-home aligner service (that honor goes to Byte), but they are at the top of the list for a lot of shoppers. And that’s well-deserved; Smile Direct Club does offer an effective, affordable, flexible option for perfecting your smile. They can’t handle the more difficult cases, though. Those with bigger changes to make should opt for clear braces instead.
Which Clear Braces Alternative Should You Choose?
We’ve presented a lot of alternatives in this guide, so if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t sweat it. All of these options are good, though, so if you’re drawn to one, then go for it.
That said, our favorite services are Byte and Candid, and we love them for different reasons. Byte has the shortest treatments in the industry, and their Byte-for-Life guarantee is sure to give you a lot of peace of mind. Whereas Candid’s hybrid treatment model offers a premium ‘best of both worlds’ clear aligner option. For more information on either of our favorites, check out our in-depth reviews of Byte and Candid.
Is it important to have straight teeth?
The answer to this depends on what orthodontic issues you have. Small gaps and even minor crowding are not always a problem beyond some people disliking how their teeth look. However, severe crowding, large gaps, and other more significant alignment issues can actually harm your oral and general health.
Do clear braces and clear aligners straighten teeth differently?
Both move teeth by directing pressure against them, but the mechanics of this are different. With braces, the archwire creates force that is transferred to the teeth through the brackets. With aligners, their shape changes as you progress through the series, and this determines where the pressure is placed.
Are clear aligners effective at treating all orthodontic concerns?
There are two types of clear aligners: those you get through a dentist or orthodontist and those you order online. If you get aligners from a dental professional, they should be able to treat the majority of orthodontic concerns. At-home aligners are restricted to making cosmetic changes to tooth alignment.
Does insurance cover both clear braces and at-home clear aligners?
If you do have orthodontic benefits, you can likely get coverage for clear braces, and even clear aligners from your doctor. As for mail-order aligners, more and more insurance companies are covering them, but not all are there just yet. Make sure you speak with your insurance carrier before starting treatment.
Online aligners are a lot cheaper than clear braces. Does this mean they are cutting corners?
Not where it counts! All the companies we recommend offer stellar treatment with aligners made from high-quality materials. They are able to offer more affordable treatment for a few reasons:
- They have reduced overhead burden compared to dental practices.
- The overhead they do have is spread out over more patients.
- They only correct mild to moderate alignment issues, so treatment is shorter.
- There are no office visits and the related expenses.
How is it that these companies have such short treatment lengths?
That actually varies between providers. In all cases, the fact that at-home clear aligner providers treat mild to moderate spacing issues plays a big role. However, some also have you move to the next aligner more quickly than in-office systems, and Byte also has the HyperByte device, which helps speed up tooth movement.
What if I have a dental emergency during treatment?
With any dental emergency, seek in-person help from a professional. So, if you are using at-home aligners, contact your general dentist. If the situation is severe, consider heading to the emergency room or urgent care.
What foods should I avoid while in treatment?
This depends on if you get clear braces or choose clear aligners. With clear braces, anything that can damage your appliance is completely off limits until treatment is finished. If you have aligners instead, you just need to remove them when you eat and clean your teeth before putting them back in.
Is it possible to straighten just my upper or lower teeth instead of both?
Yes, it is possible, but we have to warn that most at-home aligner companies will not do this. There is a pretty good reason behind this choice: part of quality alignment is having the teeth come together correctly. If you straighten just one arch, the teeth may look better from the outside but come together poorly, causing jaw pain and making it difficult to correctly chew your food.